Harold North Fowler.

A history of ancient Greek literature online

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JOHN H. WRIGHT, Harvard University

ANDREW F. WEST, Princeton University


Ideal bust in the museum at Naples.






OF THf ; •







Copyright, 1902


Published February, 1902

F7 •


This book is intended primarily for use in secondary
schools and colleges, but may perhaps be of some interest
to the general reading public. Its readers are therefore
likely to be of various ages and to differ widely in their
previous training. So far as the general reading public is
concerned, since each person will use the book as he thinks
best, no advice from me is required ; but a few words con-
cerning its use in schools and colleges may not be out of

The book contains little or nothing which should not be
familiar to every educated man and woman. The college
student should therefore be expected to use it all, though
more time should of course be spent in the study of the
chapters on the greatest writers than in learning about the
authors of less importance. The pupil in the secondary
school, however, may not always have the time to pay any
attention to the less important Greek authors. It may
therefore be in many instances desirable to stop the class-
room use of the book at the end of the Attic period, adding
only enough from the later parts to make the pupils ac-
quainted with Theocritus, Callimachus, Apollonius Khodius
(especially if the pupils have read or are to read Virgil),
Polybius, Plutarch, and Lucian. In the case of immature
pupils, it may be well to omit the chapter on the Homeric
Question, and even the chapters on the early prose writers.

Far the greater part of the book is taken up with the
history of Greek literature before the Alexandrian period.



This is desirable, because the works of the Alexandrian and
Koman times are lost for the most part and never possessed
the literary importance of the great writings of the earlier
days. On the other hand, the writings of the later times
are too important to be altogether overlooked. Koman lit-
erature was most powerfully influenced by Alexandrian lit-
erature, and has in turn exerted a most powerful influence
upon the literature of all later times. ' A summary account
of Alexandrian and Graeco-Roman literature is thereforejn-
cluded in this book, in the belief that our students should
not be allowed to forget that Greek life and thought con-
tinued to influence the world long after the political inde-
pendence of Greece came to an end. For a somewhat sim-
ilar reason — to call attention to the influence of Greek
thought, Greek education, and Greek writers upon the
progress of Christianity — an account of some of the Chris-
tian writers has been included.

In the preparation of the book I have made the greatest
use of the Histoire de la Litterature Grecque, by the
brothers Alfred and Maurice Croiset. The Manuel d' His-
toire de la Litterature Grecque, by the same authors, has
also been of great service. The Geschichte der Griechischen
Litter atur, by Wilhelm Christ, has been especially valuable
for the statistical information it contains. All the other
general works cited in the Bibliographical Appendix have
been consulted, as well as numerous books and special ar-
ticles not there mentioned. The judgments expressed in
regard to the merits and peculiarities of individual writers
are based upon my own reading of their works, but the
manner of expression has been much influenced by what
other historians of Greek literature have said. In the
spelling of proper names I have tried to follow the example
of the best English writers, and have therefore adopted in
most instances the Latin spelling.

The Bibliographical Appendix will, I hope, be found use-
ful. It is by no means exhaustive, but may serve as a guide


to those who have not access to libraries. The purpose of
the Chronological Appendix is not so much to serve as a
finding-list of dates as to show at a glance what authors
were living and working at any given time. In the general
index the names of all Greek writers mentioned in the book
are to be found, together with references to numerous
topics and to some of the more important mythological
and historical persons. The pronunciation of proper names
is marked in the index.

My thanks are due to Professor Perrin and Professor
Wright for many valuable suggestions made before the
manuscript was sent to the printer, and for patient care in
reading the proof and suggesting needed changes.

Harold N. Fowler.
Cleveland, Ohio.



I. — Introduction 1

II. — The Homeric poems 10

III. — The Homeric question 23

IV. — The Epic Cycle — Sportive poems— The Homeric

hymns . . . 35

V. — Hesiod — Didactic and genealogical poems ... 49

VI. — Lyric poetry — Elegiac poetry 58

VII. — Iambic poetry — Beast-fables 79

VIII. — Greek music — Monodic and choral poetry . . 87

IX.— Choral lyric poetry 105

X. — Choral lyric poetry (continued) 119

XL — Choral lyric poetry — Pindar 129

XII. — Religious, oracular, and mystic poetry . . . 140
XIII. — The beginnings of prose literature — The early


XIV. — The logographers . . 165

__ XV.— Herodotus . 170

XVI.— Origin and development of the drama . . . 179

XV1L— ^Eschylus 189

XVIIL— Sophocles . .202

XIX.— Euripides 219

XX. — Minor tragic poets 241

XXL— The Old Comedy — Aristophanes . . . . . 247

XXII. — Comedy after the fifth century 259

XXIII. — Epic and lyric poetry of the Attic period . . 267

XXIV.— Attic prose — Thucydides 271

XXV. — Xenophon and other historians 279




XXVI. — Attic philosophy — The sophists — Socrates and


XXVII.— Plato— The Old Academy 303

XXVIIL— Aristotle— The Peripatetics 313

XXIX.— Attic orators 322

XXX.— Isocrates 333

XXXI. — Demosthenes . . . # . . . . 340

XXXII. — JEschines and other orators 349

XXXIII. — Philosophy in the Alexandrian period . . 357

XXXIV. — Rhetoric and history in the Alexandrian period 369

XXXV. — Alexandrian poetry 381

XXXVI. — The transition to the Roman period . . . 400

XXXVII. — From Augustus to Domitian 406

XXXVIII. — Philosophy in the second century. . . . 415

XXXIX. — History — The later sophists 424

XL. — The novel — Poetry — Science — Philosophy — Chris-
tian writers . . ... . . . 438

XLI. — From Constantine to Justinian . . . 448

Appendix I. — Bibliography 462

Appendix II. — Chronological table 480

Index 487


list of illustrations


Homer, Ideal Bust in the Naples Museum . . Frontispiece
Anacreon, from a Statue in the Ny-Carlsberg Museum at Copen-
hagen 101

Sophocles, Statue in the Lateran Museum, Rome . . . .202

Plato, Bust in the Vatican Museum, Rome 303

Demosthenes, Statue in the Vatican Museum, Rome . . . 340
The Emperor Julian, Bust on the top of the Cathedral at

Acerenza 451







Importance of Greek literature — The Greek language — Divisions
and periods — Character of the periods — The dialects — Preservation of
works of literature — Sources of information — The earliest poetry — The
Muses — Mythical poets : Orpheus, Linus, Musaeus, Eumolpus, Pamphus,
Olen — Helicon, Delos, Delphi.

Anciekt Greek literature is one of the most precious
parts of our inheritance from past time, and has had a most
T . . powerful influence upon modern literature,

tance of modern thought, and, in general, modern civ-

Greek litera- ilization. This is due not merely to the fact
ture ' that Greek literature is the earliest well-devel-

oped literature we know, but still more to its inherent ex-
cellence and its beauty of form as well as of content, which
have brought it about that for two thousand years literary
expression has been cast in Greek moulds, even when the
writers have been themselves unconscious of that fact. The
history of this literature can therefore hardly fail to inter-
est all who are interested in modern civilization, whether
they are able to read the Greek language or not.

The Greeks, or Hellenes, as they called themselves, spoke
a language belonging to the great Aryan or Indo-European
family to which all the Germanic languages, including
English, also belong. English is therefore akin to Greek,



but the kinship is not close, and though we can see that

many English words are related to Greek words, still the

differences between the two languages are on

The Greek ^ e w hole more striking than the resemblances.

language. •

For one thing, Greek is a highly inflected lan-
guage, showing the relations between words by means of
terminations and other changes of form, while English
shows such relations for the most part by means of preposi-
tions and other words invented for the purpose, and by a
more or less fixed order of the words in the sentence. In
addition to inflectional forms, the Greeks also employed
prepositions and the like, and their language abounds with
particles to express different varieties of emphasis and of
relations between words and sentences. Greek is therefore
an unusually flexible and expressive language, wonderfully
well adapted for the development of logical thought, poetic
imagery, and literary form. These characteristics existed
in the language even before any real literature came into
being, but grew stronger with the growth of literature.

Greek literature has been continuous from very early
times until the present, but as a matter of convenience it
Divisions of * s divided into three chief divisions : 1. The
Greek litera- ancient literature, from the beginning to 529
ture - A. d., when the Emperor Justinian ordered

the schools of heathen philosophy to be closed. 2. The
middle or Byzantine literature, from 529 A. D. to 1453,
when Constantinople was captured by the Turks. 3. The
modern literature, from the capture of Constantinople in
1453 to the present time. These dates are given only for
the sake of convenience, for some writers before 529 A. D.
show the characteristics of the Byzantine period, and the
beginnings of the modern literature are to be traced for
nearly a century before 1453, and in like manner some
writers of these periods exhibit the characteristics of the
period before. But exact dates serve to fix in the mind the
times when the character of the literature was changing


and to connect the changes in literature with the contem-
poraneous changes in the circumstances of life and thought.

The ancient literature is the only one of the three
divisions with which we have to do here. This we may
again divide into three periods, each of which runs into the
next with no sharp dividing line, though the main charac-
teristics of each are clear and distinct : 1. The
ancient early period, from about the tenth century to

Greek litera- the end of the sixth century b. c. 2. The
ture - Attic period, the fifth and fourth centuries

B. c. 3. The period of literary decadence, from the begin-
ning of the third century b. c. to 529 a. d. The last period
is further subdivided into Alexandrian literature, lasting
from about 300 b. c. to the conquest of Greece by the
Eomans in 146 b. c, or, better, until the establishment of
the Eoman Empire in 31 B. c, and Graeco-Koman literature,
from 31 b. c. to 529 A. d.

Each of these periods is distinguished not only by
chronological sequence, but by the character of its produc-
tions and the dialect or dialects in which those productions
Literary are composed. So the early period sees the

character of growth and development of epic poetry, at first
the periods. } n t h e ^Eolic dialect, later in Ionic, and of lyric
poetry, chiefly in the Doric and ^Eolic dialects. Prose writ-
ing, in Ionic Greek, also begins in this period. The Attic
period is the time when the great seat of literary activity
was Athens. In this period dramatic poetry, both tragic
and comic, reaches its height, and prose literature is devel-
oped in history, philosophy, and oratory. After this bril-
liant period the Greeks almost cease to produce works of
original creative genius, and literature becomes for the
most part either learned or imitative. The prose writers
collect the doctrines of their predecessors, write comments
on earlier works or compose learned scientific treatises,
while the poets copy more or less laboriously the style and
forms of expression of the great masters of earlier days.


The prose writing of this period is in great measure a con-
tinuation or development of the styles which originated in
the Attic period, and the dialect used is the Attic dialect
with some modifications.

The iEolic dialect, spoken in Thessaly, in Boeotia, on the
island of Lesbos, and in the iEolic cities of Asia Minor, re-
tained some of the early forms of the Greek language longer
than did the other dialects. It never attained
e ia eo s. ^jgh development as a literary tongue except
in lyric poetry. The Doric dialect, spoken in Doris, most of
the Peloponnesus, nearly all the Sicilian colonies, and many
cities in Asia Minor and elsewhere, was more primitive than
the others in its sounds, just as the iEolic was in its forms.
A peculiarity of Doric Greek was its liking for the broad
a sound. Ionic Greek, on the other hand, the dialect of
the Ionic colonies of Asia Minor, most of the islands of the
^Egean Sea, and various cities in other regions, preferred
the close e to the a sound. This dialect was more elegant
than either ^Eolic or Doric. It was the dialect of the de-
veloped epic poetry, of elegiac verse, and of the earliest
prose. Attic Greek is a variety of the Ionic dialect with
some of the characteristics of the Doric. In its highest
development, in the fifth and fourth centuries b. c, it was
one of the most perfect instruments for the expression of
human thought ever known. The influence of Attic lit-
erature was so great that the Attic dialect, with some modi-
fications, spread all over the Greek world, and, under the
name of " the Common Dialect," became the literary lan-
guage of the last period of ancient Greek literature.

Of the vast body of Greek literature which once existed
only a comparatively small part has been preserved. The
Iliad and Odyssey make us acquainted with
preservation tne ear ly e pi° poetry at its best, and the loss of
of Greek lit- the great number of epics is therefore less to
erature. fa regretted, interesting as they would be if

they had been preserved ; but of the early lyric poetry much


less is extant than of epic poetry, some of the most famous
poets being represented only by a few detached fragments
of verse. The earliest attempts to write prose have also
been lost. The works of the great writers of the Attic
period are better preserved than are the earlier writings,
but the second- and third-class writers are hardly known to
us at all, and of the works of the greatest poets of the fifth
century only a small part (though perhaps the best part)
has been handed down through the lapse of centuries.
Many writings of the period of literary decadence have been
preserved, but a much greater number has been lost. The
survival of the works of the earlier periods is due chiefly to
the Alexandrian and later scholars, who made a selection
of the masterpieces of Greek literature, choosing them from
the great number of works existing in their day.

It results from the imperfect preservation of Greek lit-
erature that our knowledge of its history must be some-
what fragmentary. Some writers are known to us by their
Sources of works, about whose lives we have no trustwor-
our informa- thy information, while facts are recorded about
tlon ' • the lives of others whose works have perished.
In general, our knowledge comes from the works of the
authors themselves, from references to them in the works
of their contemporaries, from accounts of their lives and
works written in later times, and from notes, called scholia,
written in ancient editions of their works. 1 Comparatively
few authors are mentioned by their contemporaries, so that
most of our information is derived from the works of the

T „ authors themselves or from " lives " and com-

Information . .

from the mentaries written centuries after their death,

authors' own Few Greek authors wrote with the intention
works. £ recor( j m g the facts of their own lives ; hence

the information we derive from their works has to be gath-
ered from casual remarks which show that the writer was

1 Occasionally an author is mentioned in an inscription, but seldom
in such a way as to give much information.


present on such and such an occasion, or had visited such
and such a place, or the like. What information we can
glean in this way is valuable, for we obtain it at first hand
and can be sure that it has not been falsified in any way,
but it is very fragmentary. On the other hand, the exist-
ing biographies of Greek authors are all of late date. Their

writers must have derived their information
Biographies. £ . ., . , ,, .

from previous writers, and these were perhaps

dependent upon others still earlier. Whether such a biog-
raphy is trustworthy or not depends upon the source from
which its author derives his information and upon his own
conscientiousness in recording the information he has de-
rived. In most cases it is possible to find out by careful
study both the source from which a biography is derived
and the character of its writer. The existing biographies
are by no means of equal value, some being in the main
trustworthy records, while others are mere myths. So, too,
the scholia are of very unequal value. Some of them seem
to be mere guesses or careless remarks of late
writers who really had no trustworthy infor-
mation, while others give in abbreviated form the content
of statements by careful and well-informed writers, perhaps
even contemporaries of the person whose life, works, or char-
acter is being described. It is only by combining the facts
learned from these various sources and by studying them
in connection with the extant works of the ancient authors
that we are able to compose a history of Greek literature, and
it is evident that there must be some gaps in our knowledge
and some details in regard to which the opinions of scholars
still differ. Our information is, however, amply sufficient to
enable us to trace in the main the development of Greek lit-
erature in historical times, and to form a correct judgment
of the value and character of the different authors and
their works. We are chiefly concerned with the extant
works and their authors, though the works which have been
partly or even entirely lost can not be altogether neglected.


The history of Greek literature begins, in the strictest
sense, with Homer. But it is evident that the Iliad and
Odyssey — long and elaborate works — are not
Odyssey not tne beginnings of literature. Of their prede-
the begin- cessors we know little, but that little is impor-
nings of ^ ai rt because it helps to explain the existence

literature. Qf ^ /M and 0dy%%ey%

Every primitive people has some sort of music to which
songs are sung. Such songs, rude and irregular though
they may be, are the beginnings of lyric poetry,
Earliest an( ^ f rom them also epic poetry is developed

by the growth of the narrative element. When
the Greek tribes entered Greece they must have brought
with them songs of various kinds, though we can not tell
what the stage of their development was in those early
times. But the traditions that lived on and are imper-
fectly recorded in later times tell us of two principal
forms of early poetry, one of which developed into lyric
poetry at a later time, while the other was the parent of
the epic. To the first class belong the threnos, or lament
for the dead, with its constant wailing refrain of " ai, ai";
the marriage song, invoking Hymenaeus and calling down
blessings on the wedded pair; the glad paean of victory,
sung after the battle, at the feast, or on the march, and
doubtless some other popular songs, such as those sung at
the festivals of the springtime and the vintage. The
second class consisted of more formal and sedate songs, of
hymns to the gods, and chants of battle, adventure, and

The birthplace of the Muses, daughters of Zeus, teach-
ers of song to mortals, was, according to the popular tradi-
tion, in Pieria, on the northern slopes of Mount
Muses ierian 01y m P u s, in Thessaly. From this region a
colony of Pierians moved south and settled
about Mount Helicon, bringing the worship of the Muses
with them. This tradition seems to hide a grain of truth.


It seems that the Greeks did, at some time long before the
beginnings of literary history, receive hymns and minstrels
from the north, and it is certain that there was a school of
poetry about Mount Helicon, in Bceotia. But the Greeks
themselves knew little or nothing of the poets of those
early days, and the names they have handed down to us are
not to be regarded as historical, but only as mythical per-
sonifications of poetry and song. Two of these, Orpheus
and Linus, are represented as Thracians, sons
Mythical f the Muge Calliope . The name of Linus is

poets. .

probably derived from the refrain of an an-
cient song of mourning, ailinos (cuXivos), which the Greeks
explained as " alas for Linus," and accounted for by the
story of Linus and his sad death. So Orpheus, sometimes
called the brother of Linus, is an entirely mythical charac-
ter, though a considerable body of not very early poetry
was falsely ascribed to him. Musaeus, about whom contra-
dictory stories were told, but who was regarded as the son
or the pupil of Orpheus, was connected with the sacred
rites at Eleusis, in Attica, and his son (or father) Eumol-
pus was regarded as the ancestor of the Attic family of the
Eumolpidae. But Musaeus himself is as mythical as Or-
pheus. Another utterly vague and probably mythical poet
is Pamphus, who was supposed to have introduced or fixed
the religious tradition in Attica and the neighboring part
of Bceotia.

But it was not alone from the north that music and
poetry entered Greece. One of the famous mythical sing-
ers was Olen, from Lycia, in Asia Minor, who
was said to be the author of hymns sung to
Apollo at Delos, and the Delians claimed that his songs
and some other ancient hymns sung at Delos in Apollo's
honor were among the earliest Greek poems. They also
claimed that Olen was the inventor of the epic hexameter
verse, a distinction which the Delphians claimed for the
first Pythia at Delphi, Phemonoe. The hexameter verse,


like most other verses, was not the invention of any one

person, but was a natural growth. The fact, however, that

the Delphians claimed that it was invented by their priestess

shows that there was an early school of poetry

sc h hooi elPhiC at Del P hi ' Here > according to the story, the
Cretan Ohrysothemis contended for the prize
in song, and after him Philammon of Thrace, and after him
his son Thamyris. These are all mythical personages, but
the story of their contests at Delphi is an indication that
the northern and eastern schools of song met and joined
forces on the slopes of Parnassus.

The names assigned to the earliest singers of hymns in
Greece are mythical, and all their songs are lost ; but it is
evident that they had great influence upon the poetry of
the first great epoch of Greek literature, the time when the
Iliad and the Odyssey were composed, as well as upon the
slightly later poems ascribed to Hesiod and his school.



The greatness of the Iliad and Odyssey — Greek myths — The story of
the Trojan War — The story of the Iliad — The story of the Odyssey —
Differences and resemblances of the two poems — Homeric style and
composition — Narrative and description — Similes — Dialogue — Charac-

Online LibraryHarold North FowlerA history of ancient Greek literature → online text (page 1 of 40)